Autism in girls, how is it different?

Up until recently, boys were thought to be four times more likely to have autism than girls. But now, we're starting to realise we might have been wrong all along!

How many girls really have autism?

For many years autism was thought to be for ‘boys only’.

Although boys do tend to be diagnosed earlier and more often than girls, there’s growing evidence that autism in girls is often missed.

This means that instead of one girl to every four boys having autism as originally thought, research suggests that the ratio is much closer to one girl to every two boys.

Why is autism being missed in girls?

One of the main reasons autism is often missed in girls is they seem to be very good at hiding the signs!

Older girls, and those with milder forms of autism, seem to be able to copy what their peers are doing and try to work hard to ‘fit in’ with their friends.

Also, because we have always been wrongly told that autism is a ‘boys condition’, often people just aren’t on the look out for symptoms in girls.

Therefore a girl who has trouble making friends and reading faces might just be said to be shy or introverted. Or a girl with an obsessive interest in collecting soft toys might just be said to be enjoying pretend play.

Another thing, is while autism is different for every person, it does seem to present a little differently in girls – especially those with strong language skills. For example, girls have less severe repetitive behaviours than boys.

All of this together means girls often fly under the radar. Sometimes it will therefore take longer for them to receive a diagnosis, some don’t receive a diagnosis until they are adults, and some not at all.

So, what does autism look like in girls?

Surprisingly the symptoms of autism are actually quite similar for boys and girls – it’s just that it’s often overlooked in girls.

Every person is different but people with autism often have trouble in social situations and with communication. They may also prefer strict routines and have repetitive actions.

A few other common signs of autism in girls include:

  • Copying others to blend in
  • Being passive which is often seen as ‘just being shy’
  • One or few close friendships
  • A tendency to ‘camouflage’ difficulties
  • Being able to control emotions at school, but having less control at home
  • A vivid imagination (might escape into worlds of fiction)
  • Strong interests such as animals, music, art etc
  • A desire to arrange and organise objects
  • Trouble playing – wanting to dictate the rules or preferring to play alone
  • Sensory sensitivities – such as food textures, socks, fabrics etc.

So, if you want to look into a diagnosis, where to next?

Remember, autism is complex, and even though you might be thinking these symptoms ring true of yourself or your child, there are many factors such as your environment and personality which shape who you are. Also, other conditions may have similar signs.

If you do want to explore a diagnosis for your child, the first step is to talk to your GP or paediatrician. If you are an adult, check out our blog on receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult.

To start the process, your GP will usually refer you to a specialist. A diagnosis may involve seeing a number of specialists including a paediatrician, child psychiatrist or psychologist, speech pathologist, or occupational therapist.

It’s not always easy to make an autism diagnosis as there’s no lab test for it, although there are guidelines. Specialists will instead rely on watching your child play and interact, and also chat to you about what you see and experience day to day.

If you do receive a diagnosis of autism for your child, Early intervention has been found to be very helpful. Find out more about Early Childhood Intervention at Aruma.